Posts about scientists at work

Dr. Steve Goodman’s Work as a Field Biologist in Madagascar

Dr. Steve Goodman‘s work is a legendary Field Biologist and spends 9-10 months out of the year conducting research in other countries, with a focus on Madagascar for nearly 30 years. Learn more about the future of Madagascar’s biodiversity and research.

This video is from the great Brain Scoop channel with Emily Graslie; if you are not following that channel I highly recommend doing so for people interested in science.

Related: The Michael Jordan of Field BiologyInsect ArchitectureNew Life Form Found at South African Truck StopNeil Degrasse Tyson: Scientifically Literate See a Different World

Ocean Exploration – Live Feed and Highlights

Nautilus Live provides a live view of the E/V Nautilus as it explores the ocean studying biology, geology, archeology, and more. The site also includes highlights such as this video of a siphonophore.

Siphonophores are actually made up of numerous animals even though they look like one animal. These amazing colonial organisms are made up up many smaller animals called zooids, and can be found floating around the pelagic zone in ocean basins. The Portugese Man O’ War is a famous siphonophore.

Each zooid is an individual, but their integration with each other is so strong, the colony attains the character of one large organism. Indeed, most of the zooids are so specialized, they lack the ability to survive on their own.

Related: Giant Star Fish and More in AntarcticaHydromedusae, Siphonophora, Cnidarians, Ctenophores (what are jellyfish?)Macropinna Microstoma: Fish with a Transparent HeadLarge Crabs Invading Antarctic as Waters Warm

Here is another video from Nautilus, showing a large dumbo octopus:

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Looking Inside Living Cells

Johns Hopkins’ molecular biologist Jin Zhang explains how she uses light to see where and when within cells specific molecular processes occur and what happens when they go wrong.

Related: How Lysozyme Protein in Our Tear-Drops Kill BacteriaScience Explained: How Cells React to Invading VirusesNobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 for Reprogramming Cells to be PluripotentWebcast Exploring Eukaryotic Cells

Wesley the Owl: Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

This story begins on Valentine’s Day in 1985 when biologist Stacey O’Brien meets a four-day-old baby barn owl in a fateful encounter that would turn into an astonishing 19-year saga. With nerve damage in one wing, the owlet’s ability to fly was forever compromised and he had no hope of surviving on his own in the wild. A young assistant in the owl laboratory at Caltech, O’Brien promised to care for the helpless owlet and give him a permanent home. O’Brien’s heartfelt memoir of life with this wild bird, Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl recounts their dramatic, and often humorous, life together.

For almost two decades, O’Brien studied Wesley and his strange habits intensively and providing a mice-only diet. With a heart-shaped face and outsized personality that belied his 18-inch stature, the gorgeous white-and-gold Wesley fascinated everyone he met, and touched many lives. Stacey and Wesley’s bond was especially deep; O’Brien discovered that owls are highly sentient beings with individual personalities, subtle emotions, and a playful nature that can also turn fiercely loyal and protective.

Cool fact: “While we hear in two dimensions, owls hear in three.” Owls can detect a mouse heartbeat under three feet of snow.
Related: Friday Fun: Cat and Owl PlayingBird Brain (smart crows)Using Barn Owls for Bilogical Pest Control in Israel
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Cell Culture Lab Tour

Joanne Loves Science includes many webcasts on science, take a look for yourself. She contacted me through the post ideas page. She teaches mammalian cell culture techniques and the concepts of stem cells and tissue engineering in the Bioengineering Department at the University of Illinois. In this webcast she provides a tour of the cell culture lab.

Related: post on scientists at workTour the Carnegie Mellon Robotics LabCERN Tour webcastYoung Geneticists Making a Difference

Making Embryonic Stem Cells

photo of Junying Yuphoto of Junying Yu, an assistant scientist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison by Bryce Richter, 2007.

Holy Grail of stem cell research within reach by Mark Johnson

It was time to test the 14 genes she had selected as the best candidates to reprogram a cell.

Using viruses to deliver the genes, she inserted all 14 at once into human cells. On the morning of July 1, 2006, Yu arrived at the lab and examined the culture dishes. Her eyes focused on a few colonies, each resembling a crowded city viewed from space. They looked like embryonic stem cells.

Cells must pass certain tests. They must multiply for weeks while remaining in their delicate, primitive state. When they are allowed to develop, they must turn into all the other cell types.

Bad things happen. Cells develop too soon. Cells die. There is no “aha!” moment, Thomson has said, only stress. He looked at the colonies and suppressed any excitement. He told Yu, essentially: OK, well get back to me in a couple of weeks.

In the fall of 2006, Yu was preparing to whittle down her list of genes when she fell ill. The pain in her gut was awful. She struggled to eat. Her doctor thought it was a stomach flu. Instead, in late October, Yu’s appendix burst. She was laid up for a month. When she returned to the lab, the problem with the culture medium struck again.

Not until January 2007 was she able to begin narrowing the list of genes. She spent several months testing subsets of them, finally arriving at four. Two, Oct4 and Sox2, were “Yamanaka factors,” the name given to the genes the Japanese scientist had used to reprogram mouse cells. Two, Nanog and Lin28, were not.

Using a virus to deliver the four genes, she reprogrammed a line of fetal cells, then repeated the experiments with more mature cells. Although the process was inefficient, succeeding with only a small fraction of cells, it did work.

Dr. Junying Yu, an American trained scientist who entered the US as a foreign student from China. Which is somewhat ironic given the movement of USA based stem cell researches to China. Great article showing the process of scientific inquiry.

Related: Junying Yu, James Thomson and Shinya Yamanaka (Time people who mattered 2007) – Discovery leaps legal, financial and ethical hurdles facing stem cellsEdinburgh University $115 Million Stem Cell CenterStanford Gets $75 Million for Stem Cell Centerposts relating to Madison, Wisconsin

Where are the Senior Female Scientists

Why Are Senior Female Scientists So Heavily Outnumbered by Men? by Anna Kushnir

There is some funny math in the world of academic science. Take my graduate school for example: My class was made up of eight people — seven women and one man, or 7 to 1. He was Snow White and we were the seven dwarves — each with a remarkably appropriate nickname. I was Grumpy, should you be curious to know.

Snow White and at least four of the dwarves have continued on to postdoctoral research jobs. That is a 4 to 3 ratio of women who went on to do a post-doc to those that chose alternate career paths.

Everything is adding up so far, right? Lots of women are around. Lots of science is being done. All is well. The next set of numbers is slightly puzzling, however. That is the ratio of female to male professors in our department, at a well-respected academic institution, is 48 to 7 men to women.

The proportion of female faculty in her department, 14 percent, is exactly equal to the overall average from the top fifty US chemistry departments.

From her blog: Lab Life: I thought I wanted to be “normal”

The majority of researchers, in my experience, think that stress level, pressure, and time commitments all drop by a factor of ten the moment you step outside of the chemical-smeared walls of a lab. I have come to realize that’s a misconception. It’s just not true. I think that whenever one wants a career instead of a job, time, stress, pressure, and worry are the price to pay.

If all I wanted was a job with a steady income, I am pretty sure I could get it. I would be well-rested and calm, but would I be happy? Would I be alright staying put where I am, with nothing pushing me to reach the next step or rise to the next level? I don’t think so.

I have heard the words ‘ambition’ and ‘drive’ described as derogatory, when applied to people. Unfortunately, I think those are apt words to describe me (in addition to ‘tired’ and ‘often occasionally cranky’). It was an important thing for me to understand about myself and come to terms with. It’s just who I am.

Related: A Decade of Progress for Women in ScienceWomen Working in Scienceposts on scientists at workWomen Choosing Other Fields Over Engineering and Mathscience internships

Scientists With Lots of Monitors Onboard Ship

photo of computer monitors onboard ship

Fun blog by Linds, a geophysicist, with fun name and tagline: PhD = Pretty huge Dork There’s no crying in grad school! I enjoy including some posts on scientists at work (and plan on trying to intentionally do more of that). The photo shows her office onboard ship – pretty impressive. I thought this monitor was cool.

The boat is a steel monster about 400 feet long. There’s three decks, with cabins, the galley and mess hall, a few different labs, a movie room, reading room and a weight room with white padded walls. It’s all very “Life Aquatic“, if you get the reference. [those that don’t follow the link its a crazy movie – John]

We have been in transit for the past three days, getting our computers and systems up and running. We arrive at our first deployment spot tomorrow morning at 5:30 am. That is when we’ll put our first ocean bottom seismometer (OBS) down. The OBS itself is a sphere about 16 inches in diameter made of inch thick glass–these suckers are heavy! It’s vacuum sealed with the instrumentation inside and attached to an anchor. When we are done with the survey, the sphere is timed to detach from the anchor and it’ll float to the surface of the water. Our boat will pull up alongside it and we’ll scoop it out with a net and crane.

woke up today at 3am to get ready for my first watch. We definitely have the worst seas that we have had so far. We are definitely pitching and rolling out here! We deployed our first OBS at 5am and are doing about 1 instrument/hr for the next 24 hours.

Those snippets are from various posts on the blog. Another from earlier:

But there is recent good news: that lone female professor (who is an amazing researcher and is highly respected in the field, chairs many committees both nationally and within the department and was president of the Geological Society of America in the 90’s) has been named the new department chair. I think this move is important in encouraging talented women scientists to apply for positions within the department and shows dedication on the part of the higher-ups to highlighting ‘diversity’ as a priority.

Related: Giant Star Fish and More in AntarcticaBeloit College: Girls and Women in ScienceA Career in Computer ProgrammingDiversity in Science and EngineeringSo, You Want to be an Astrophysicist?Dr. Tara Smith

Giant Star Fish and More in Antarctica

photo of giant starfish

Photo by John Mitchell, New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. Read a great deal about the New Zealand Census of Antarctic Marine Life project: 26 scientists and 18 crew took a 50-day voyage aboard RV Tangaroa in February-March 2008.

Benthic invertebrates in Antarctica are well known for their large size. This feature, known as “gigantism” is common amongst certain groups including sea spiders, sponges, isopods, starfish, and amphipods. The phenomenon is a subject of intense scientific investigation, but there are many contributing factors.

Slow growth rates, late reproductive maturation, prolonged periods of embryonic development, and low predation rates that are typical of Antarctic waters contribute to long life-spans for many species and can also result in large size animals. Animal physiology is thought to play a role as well, as those groups that require large amounts of calcium should not, in theory, grow well in Antarctic waters. This is because the calcium carbonate (needed for growth of shells, or starfish ‘tests’) has low solubility in very cold seawater. Yet starfish, which have a calcareous exoskeleton or ‘test’ which needs lots of calcium, can reach much larger sizes than found in New Zealand waters, as seen in [photo].

Another crucial part of the story is that the low sea temperatures allow more oxygen to be dissolved in the sea water than in warmer latitudes. Sea spiders for example are not only larger, but reach more than 1000 times the weight of most temperate species. Amphipod crustaceans in the Southern Ocean are also large; more than five times as long as the largest temperate species.

Related: Ocean LifeArctic SharksAntarctic Fish “Hibernate” in WinterLake Under 2 Miles of Ice

Dr. Tara Smith

Interview of Dr.Tara C. Smith:

I’ve started to think more seriously about science communication in general over the past few years, so hanging out with so many other people who have a passion for this was a great motivator to simply get more done, especially at the local level. I already run our state’s Citizens for Science group but would like to do more with it; perhaps move more toward the SCONC group model. As far as sessions, I really enjoyed Hemai Parthasarathy’s session on open science; I thought I knew a decent amount about open-access publishing, but I learned a lot more. I also was equal parts enjoying myself and seething with frustration at the session on gender and race in science. It’s so hard to know if you’re doing the right thing as a junior scientist, and especially a junior scientist who’s female or a racial minority. It was interesting listening to ScienceWoman and others talk about the difficulties they had with blogging anonymously; they feel confined in what they write about because they don’t want to blow their cover, while as a junior female scientist blogging under my own name, I feel constrained because I feel I’m under a bit of a microscope.

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Great Self Portrait

photo of astronaut's faceplate reflecting earth

Photo by, and of, Astronaut Clay Anderson, Expedition 15 flight engineer. He used a digital camera to expose a photo of his helmet visor during the mission’s third planned session of extravehicular activity (EVA) on the International Space Station (15 August 2007). Also visible in the reflections in the visor are various components of the station and a blue and white portion of Earth. During the 5-hour, 28-minute spacewalk, Anderson and astronaut Rick Mastracchio (out of frame), STS-118 mission specialist, relocated the S-Band Antenna Sub-Assembly from Port 6 (P6) to Port 1 (P1) truss, installed a new transponder on P1 and retrieved the P6 transponder.

NASA provides their content, photos etc. online in an open access spirit. When linking to content (especially images) it is best to provide context (and with the internet the easiest way to do is so is relevant links). You can find many low resolution pictures of the image above around the internet. Trying to find the context around the image is not so easy – it took me quite awhile to do so. I try to provide the context and links. Lately some more sites will link to some original sources but this is still done far to infrequently.

There are also still far too many pointy haired bosses (PHB) making decisions to break the web by killing pages: web pages must live forever. Those PHB’s decisions do reduce the great benefit of linking but it is still worth doing for those cases where web sites are managed by people with the knowledge and ability to manage an internet resource properly.

Photo: NASA – high resolution version

Related: Van Gogh self portraitMars Rovers Getting Ready for Another AdventureNASA Robotics Academy